Action! Somehow everyone knows the chorus to the opening sing-along: Pain pain pain / Pain is not a fortune / Pain pain pain / Laugh it all away / Pain pain pain / Tears are not the answer / Pain pain pain / Forget about your day.

Yellow and orange flags hang above the chrome stage. And the DJ booth—a king’s throne—is elevated, a loud metallic purple.

Surrounded by female dancers in skimpy pink fatigues is Chazrick Villarosa, clapping to the music. Reese De Verdad selects one lucky man from the audience to dance with her. He takes off his shirt and twirls it around. His back is a muddy rice paddy. The dancers, who look fifteen, snap their hips back and forth in a sex-like rhythm.

I climb down the bleachers to exit. This is not the Manila I love. Yesterday’s Manila would’ve exited before the music started blaring. Yesterday’s Manila would’ve abandoned this idea. Now, I wait in the gateway.

Game for some action? Chazrick asks his audience.

To which they readily reply, game na kami!

Game means “ready and willing.” It’s derived from another show. I’m not game for any of this. Everyone had it right at this point. Tak Takahashi said the masses are indecisive and Sid David knew it all along. They just want to forget, he’d said. They don’t want to be the Slum Dwellers. As he put it, our people aren’t ready to accept their lives. They want chocolate and dancing, not reminders. And Morgan Renoir would say that Chazrick’s smile inspires hope.

The people want to sing together, but I’m not sure that these are their choruses.

11. a renewed joy

In no time, Chazrick Villarosa poses for every popular magazine: Sid’s Picks, The Filipino’s American, Objectified Perfection, Guwapong Guwapo Talaga, Post-Postcolonial Pinoy, Playpinoy, Without Sin, Actors & Actresses Matter, and You Don’t Look Good But He Does.

Having been preoccupied with my latest work, I haven’t had time to argue. I’m realizing I’m obsessed with Chazrick Villarosa. Tak Takahashi notices that all of my characters are defined by short-term success, the immediacy of shallow passion. Thus far, suddenness and fame define Chazrick Villarosa.

Now I find myself watching him shoot a commercial on edsa Boulevard. The street is swollen with spectators. One columnist states that this commercial will change history.

The people are united again on these streets, she writes, not for violence or politics or another People Power Revolution, but for a renewed sense of joy.

In the middle of the historical landmark, Chazrick Villarosa rinses his hair in a freestanding shower. It’s not just any shower, it’s a shower that stands adjacent to the edsa Shrine. It’s a shower surrounded by half-naked dancers. Police barricades keep spectators from storming the set.

The product: Instant Star Shampoo.

His body covered in suds, Chazrick Villarosa turns to the camera and says, iss! Because it sounds like that. Issss!

Cut! The dancers disband and none other than Reese De Verdad gives Chazrick a towel.

Great job, I say, and put my hand on his slippery face.

It’s all a game, he says. He ties the towel over his eyes. Suds drip down the side of his neck. I do what they ask, he says, and eventually they’ll do what I want.

Game, I think.

Reese De Verdad, I say.

Yes, she answers, can I help you?

My mother says hello.

Oh, replies Reese De Verdad, giggly and confused. Hello?

I elbow my way through the crowd as the roaring applause endures. This hype will confuse Chazrick. Don’t trust it, I wish to tell him. But this is what he’s wanted all along. Maybe it was never me that he loved. Maybe he loved my waiting. I’d stuck around for him to prove something, not to me but to himself. He doesn’t need me. Love? Semantics. I’ve never felt so alone with so many strangers humidifying my face.

Two days later. In Sid David’s fucking office. Sid David rises from his white couch. Reese De Verdad sits behind his desk. Chazrick Villarosa sits on the filing cabinet. I stay in the doorway.

A marriage proposal! says Sid David.

What? I ask. That’s the next big move?

A toddler in diapers and sunglasses runs around the room without making a sound.

Everyone has seen CV with rdv lately, continues Sid David. I mean, everyone. If he turns his back to marry some unknown writer over the voluptuous rdv, then CV will be respected while everyone will sympathize with RDV. And you’ll be able to make any film you want.

And this child? I ask. Is this our miracle?

No, sweetie, answers Reese De Verdad as she bounces the toddler on her knee, this is my son.

Reese De Verdad a mother? She needs this scam more than Sid David’s ego does.

It won’t even be real, adds Chazrick. You’re a writer. You know sacrifice.

You’re lucky, says Reese De Verdad. You’ll be the First Lady to the Son of the Nation.

Before leaving, without holding his hands, I kiss Chazrick, say nothing, and walk away.

It’s about progress, says Sid David as I disappear down the hallway. True progress.

12. nonfictional love

I sit inside the Sinai Karaoke Bar with Tak Takahashi. We’re watching The Behind the Scenes Real Life True Nonfiction Story of the begins Superstar on the big screen television. The air-conditioning is on full blast and the PMN pennants—designed with Chazrick Villarosa’s silhouette—flap. The sound is like a tiny person’s palms crashing together. This bar is empty. The people, even the balikbayan and the tourists, are gathered at the EDSA Shrine, hoping to catch a glimpse of the exclusive interview with Chazrick Villarosa, today’s Mang Manila.

Mang Manila looks blue. It’s not because I have morning sickness or because I’m pregnant with his child. He doesn’t know yet. He weeps and his hair is so long that it hides his ears. He admits that our engagement was a failure. It was. It never happened.

Do you still love her? asks Brandon Jane, the famous transsexual lead singer of a Monkees cover band.

Yes, cries Chazrick Villarosa. I mean, O-po.

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